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How to: Swim in open water

Swimmer in open water

For most of us, swimming means a trip to a chlorine-saturated pool littered with used plasters and hairbands. But increasing numbers of people are turning to open water swimming in the wilds of the open air. Here are a few pointers if you’re thinking of giving it a go.


You can use the same goggles and hats that you would normally use in a pool, but you just need the hat to be bright so that you can be seen. The main thing is a wetsuit. They are very different from, say, a surf wetsuit, but they really help with buoyancy as well as insulation from the cold. It’s definitely worth trying a lot of different ones before you invest because it is a very personal thing. When you are starting out you can use a tow float; the idea is that if you need a rest you can hang on to your float and bob for a bit.

Before you get in

Most lakes are regulated so you either have to swim with a partner, or log in and out. Other lakes have lifeguards in kayaks watching over you in the water. Don’t swim alone. Check your course/route and make note of landmarks, the position of the sun and so on. Swimming straight is a skill so you will need to keep looking up while you breathe to check your course.

entering the water

With practice you will get used to the cold temperature of the water. No matter what, it always takes me a while to get my face in the water. It can be painful swimming in cold water but you can get gloves and socks if you’re really struggling.


You don’t use your legs as much as you do in pool swimming. It’s much more about gliding because you need to be able to keep it going and hold that straight line; if you have a long stroke then hopefully you’ll stay in the right direction for longer rather than zig-zagging everywhere. In the sea you may have to lift your elbow up a bit higher in order to get over the waves if the sea is choppy. You might also breathe more frequently as sometimes you might go to breathe and find you’re in the middle of a wave!


In the summer when it’s quiet and gorgeous and it’s like a mill pond in the morning sunshine, it’s just wonderful. Early morning on the water… you just can’t beat it.

photo: Johner RF/Getty Images

The expert

Name: Alice Easton

Job: Student on Intermediate Command and Staff Course (ICSC)

Regiment: Royal Engineers

Rank: Major

Biog: I joined the Army in 2002 (aged 19) on a Gap Year Commission and subsequently re-commissioned into the Royal Engineers after university in 2007. I’ve since been to Afghanistan, Falkland Islands, Kenya, Oman, Jordan